New Method Evaluates Antibiotics Based on the Tiny Vibrations of Dying Microbes

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The NIST-developed technique could greatly speed up the process of diagnosing infections.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

Researchers have devised a way of classifying bacteria based on how it vibrates, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports. The technique, which relies on ultrasensitive piezoelectric sensors, makes it possible to determine the appropriate antibiotics to treat an infection in less than one hour.

Understand that when it comes to infections, timing is a big problem. The symptoms of an infection might look the same for a whole lot of different varieties of bacteria, many of which respond differently to different antibiotics. Classifying the bacterial culprit behind an infection is usually a matter of taking a sampling of bacterial cells, tossing them in a dish, and then waiting for them to multiply to the point that it’s possible to start testing out different antibiotics on the accumulated cells (or culture). This is called antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST).

The problem is that this takes time. Usually, patients are treated with antibiotics immediately rather than waiting around for a culture to complete. This is a process of guesswork and the result is often antibiotic overtreatment. Patients are often given broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat infections caused by bacteria that might be knocked easily with a more limited antibiotic. Overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics have several negative consequences, including increasing rates of antibiotic resistance.

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